I got a chance to talk with Dan Schwartz and Keith Goodwin of Philadelphia three-piece Good Old War before they set out on tour with RX Bandits and Dredg before their July 31 performance at Berkshire Community College. I got to ask them some questions about their hometown, their perfected harmonies and the importance of practice.
Rock On: When did you three initially get together to make music? Were you buddies before the band?
Dan Schwartz: Tim and Keith were in a band called Days Away for a long time. The band had many ups and downs and toured extensively for almost ten years. I met Tim through a mutual friend and we all started playing music together immediately. About a year and a half ago, Days Away had a tour planned with our friend Anthony Green, but they broke up right before it. So they called me and we made up song structures and harmonies in the van on the way to the first show. We worked perfectly right away.
RO: I’ve never been to Philadelphia before. What’s the best thing about the town? What’s the worst?
DS: Philly is a really nostalgic town actually. It basically thrives on it’s history. People that come from there either hate the tourists, or love to go see the liberty bell on the weekends and bring their friend and family to Old City on Horse and buggy tours. It’s a really cool place to be from because it does have a real urge to become a unified community and one day they’ll figure it out. The murder rate is probably the worst part.
RO: Speaking of Philly, what was it like to sing at that Phillies/Orioles game?
DS: The Phillies game was an amazing experience. Seeing how their administration works and standing on the field. Our families got to come to a show we played during the day, and it was the most people we’ve ever sang for at one time.
RO: Execution seems to be a big part of your band. From the beginning was the band’s initial intent what you’ve happened upon at this point in your career? In other words, has the original mindset or idea of “the band” changed at all since you guys started?
DS: We haven’t changed our mindset, just crafted our original ideas until we were able to perform our ideas well. As far as execution, I’d say we practice more than most bands. Every day we’re home is spent practicing and recording, and every day on tour we practice up until the show. We just love to sing together.
RO: Have you always been so focused on harmonies?
DS: Harmonies were the reason we wanted to do this band. Keith and I got together to do a couple acoustic versions of Days Away songs, and naturally, I started to sing along with him. It was a good blend right from the start. When we added Tim to that vocal mix, it was just a really exciting moment. Besides that, he and Keith had been harmonizing more subtly in Days Away for years.
RO: What other kinds of bands have the three of you played in over the years?
DS: We’ve all been in many kinds of bands. Days Away was a dreamy progressive rock kind of thing. My last band was an alt-country type of thing with male/female vocals. We’ve all been loud, and this is our chance to take that kind of energy and focus it on something a little easier on the ears.
RO: I see you’ve got quite the tour ahead of you. How many tours have you been on? I know you’re the supporting act for many of these shows. How’s it feel to be the main act in Pittsfield?
DS: The first tour we did was a week-long holiday tour with Anthony Green in December 2007. Since then we’ve done one nation-wide tour with Anthony as Good Old War and as his backup band that lasted about 7 weeks, 2 weeks on the east coast with the Gaslight Anthem, and then small clusters of shows with a few other bands. We’ve been to Boston but I don’t think we’ve been to Pittsfield yet. We’re always really happy to be invited to play and being the main act gives us more freedom so we love it.
RO: Who’s the best band you’ve ever shared a stage with?
Keith Goodwin: Every show has been great. It’s too hard to pick the best one. It would be easier to pick the worst. We’ve been lucky enough to tour with great artists. We haven’t stopped having fun since the first tour.
RO: I’ve come accross some bands claiming ignorance to new music. Have any of you heard any new music this year you’ve been really into?
KG: I love the new Grizzly Bear, Squarepusher… If it strikes a nerve, it doesn’t matter when it was made.
RO: You’re a young band as far as I can tell. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced thus far?
KG: It’s all a challenge. You just can’t freak out when you meet resistance.
RO: How do you guys write songs? Is there a main songwriter or do you all do it collectively?
KG: We all write songs. For Only Way to Be Alone, Dan and I wrote 50/50. Most of the time he had his songs prepared and I had mine and there were two that we wrote together, and then we would arrange them so that we were all happy. Now, through some experimenting, I’ve been really interested in writing from scratch with the three of us in one room. I think we’ll keep trying new things.
RO: What’s the band’s main goal with regards to music?
KG: Music is a powerful way to bring a little more peace into peoples lives and it brings strangers together. We love making music and connecting with people worldwide. So the goal is to continue making this connection until our bodies tell us we can’t anymore.
RO: Where do you see yourselves by the end of this tour? In a year? In a couple years?
KG: By the end of the tour I see having more friends. In a year we’ll be practicing, touring on new material, and releasing a new record. That’s about as far as I’ve looked.
RO: The Pittsfield show is the final hurrah of sorts for the Rock On Musicians Workshop. Any tips or pointers to the young musicians who are attending the workshop?
KG: Yes, practice all the time. Be positive. Eliminate negativity altogether. Negativity will ruin your band.